In his early years at Penn State, Craig Zabel spent many hours amidst wooden cataloging cabinets containing drawers full of photographic slides. With nimble fingers and unwavering focus, Zabel — an associate professor and head of Penn State’s Department of Art History — would rake through rows of 35 mm slides for the perfect image to add to his lesson plan, a quest that was never truly over.
“Teaching art history is a lot of hunting and pecking,” Zabel said. “I’m always in search of that better image or better way to explain things in my lessons.”
Although Zabel enjoys the nostalgia of shuffling through slides, the process can be time consuming and limited. But thanks to digitization efforts by the department’s Visual Resources Centre (VRC), Zabel now explores the library’s images right from his computer.
According to Carolyn Lucarelli, the center’s curator, the digitization of the slide collection sprung out of a need to catalog and organize the library’s large volume of images.
“Back in the old days, everything was typed on a typewriter and none of that information was stored,” Lucarelli said. “So the first step was to create a database to house the metadata — the identifying information for each image — and as the years went by, the images themselves were scanned and added as well.”
This process has resulted in a collection of more than 80,000 high-resolution images, which are available to anyone with a current Penn State user ID (e.g., xyz5000) and password thanks to a partnership with the University Libraries’ Digital Collections.
“We’ve been able to reach so many more people through the digital images,” Lucarelli said. “The great thing about digital is it doesn’t require someone to actually come in and pull a physical slide.”
The VRC has also worked with the Palmer Museum of Art to scan and input data for more than 7,000 works from current collections as well aspast exhibitions, a catalog that is available to anyone with access to the internet.
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